Three Steps to Understanding Others in Life and Leadership.

ImageThe ability to understand others correctly is vital to the health of relationships. One of the key factors in communication is interpretation. An incorrect understanding will lead to an incorrect interpretation, leading to faulty conclusions, which will most likely result in the wrong response.

Whether you are a leader, an employee, a spouse, or a parent, seeking to understanding those with whom you are close will greatly enhance your relationship. Putting forth the effort to listen to and understand others communicates that you actually care about them. To disregard understanding communicates that the only thing important in the relationship is your own opinion. Scripture tells us in Proverbs 18:2:

A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.

Steps to improving the health of relationships

1. Take responsibility for understanding.

Understanding is a personal responsibility. Most of us are quick to judge rather than exercising patience for understanding. The place to start in trying to understand others is to suspend judgement and realize that there are unseen factors at work.

2. Ask questions to clarify.

Interpretation is most important. The more emotionally involved a conversation is the less clarity tends to be present. Questions must be asked in order to ensure that you are hearing what you think you are hearing. If you and I skip this step, we will likely misinterpret, misjudge, and respond inappropriately. Ask simple questions like,

  • What do you mean by that?
  • Why is that important to you?
  • What do you want me to understand about how you feel?

3. Validate concerns.

Validate a person’s concerns even when you don’t understand. Remember this: Your lack of understanding does not make a person’s concerns invalid. When we validate others’ concerns, we communicate that we care. I’ve recently written more on this topic here.

Unhealthy relationships create stress, anxiety and avoidance. We all should desire to be in healthy relationships at home and at work. Let’s not be fools that are only interested in our own opinions; rather, let’s keep REACHING FORWARD to understand those we care about in our circle of life.

Feel free to leave comments.

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Leading From the Middle – Part I

I recently had the opportunity to appear on The Pastor’s Life video blog to discuss the various nuances of leading from the second chair. I quickly realized that I had a lot to say about this subject based on my current position in a local church as well as 21 years in the military where everyone is second chair to someone.

There are many dynamics at work for a person leading from the middle. Direction, leadership style, desires, and personality come down from the top leader, while personnel issues, problems, tensions, questions, and various other factors float up toward the top leader. In the middle is a leader who is attempting to lead, manage, motivate, inspire, and stabilize from both directions. How does a leader in this position learn to lead with confidence and joy rather than hesitation and frustration? To answer that question, I have broken my comments into three parts relative to the relationship between the first and second leader.

Think Synergy: two or more things functioning together to produce a result not independently obtainable.

Part I: Shared elements that are necessary

1. Shared Vision – It is vitally important that the first and second leaders share the vision for the church or organization. The leadership provided by these two individuals must point in the same direction. I joined with my Lead Pastor because his heart for ministry and overall vision resonated with me in a profound way. Over the years, we took what was at the core of our hearts and shaped the vision into what it is today. If the person leading from the middle does not own the vision from his or her heart, chances are that person is in the wrong position.

2. Shared Values – It is near impossible for two people to share the exact same values because we all come from different life experiences and backgrounds. However, it is possible and necessary to identify those values that are shared among you. The bottom line here is that values inform and shape a leader’s decision-making. Values steer the ship in the direction that it should go. If leaders are making decisions from different sets of values, then more than likely the ship is being steered in two different directions. We spent months hammering out our shared values and identifying those things that would genuinely guide us as we endeavor to accomplish the vision set before us.

3. Shared Strategy – Strategy is one of those things that is going to morph and evolve until you find what works. At times, different leaders are going to feel more strongly about a particular strategy than others. If there are fundamental differences in ministry philosophy and strategy then forward movement is going to be frustrated. In church world there are various models of discipleship from programs to Sunday school to small groups to a buffet model that includes all of the above. The key point for us in finding what works has been in sharing together in the development of our strategy along the way.

4. Mutual Trust – The most important element that can exist between the first and second leader is trust. Trust is developed over time. If the first and second leaders do not develop a mutual trust for one another, then neither of them will be able to lead effectively. Lack of trust among these two individuals will stall progress and adversely effect the morale of the organization. We have developed a mutual trust because we keep truth in the open. We have given each other permission to communicate openly and share our hearts with one another. The result has been a mutual respect and trust that empowers each of us to lead from our respective seats.

There are other aspects of leadership that must co-exist between the first and second leader; however, I’ve found that these four are essential to setting you on a path of leading with confidence and joy along your day-to-day journey.

Keep REACHING FORWARD to God’s best for  your church or organization. Together we can make a difference and impact our world in positive ways.

Comments welcome.

How to solve communication problems.

In almost every relational conflict that I encounter I hear these words: “We just can’t seem to communicate.” There are tons of research and surveys out there that tell us communication is the number one struggle in relationships. Most of the time we refer to communication in the context of marriage; however, communication struggles exist among friends, co-workers, extended family members, supervisor-employee relations, leaders and staff, and any other relationship that you can think of.

Why is communication so hard?

Communicating what we want to say is not the hard part. People often think the problem is not being able to get their point across. Here’s another common phrase: “I can’t get him/her to understand.” The problem is rarely found in finding ways to say what we want to say. Most of us communicate very clearly. When was the last time you had difficulty ordering a meal ‘exactly’ the way you wanted it in a restaurant or drive-thru? Not too difficult to do, right? That’s because saying what we want to say is usually not the problem. (Caveat: One point to take note of here, however, is the way we say it: tone of voice, body language, words we use, and attitude.)

Communication problems generally occur not because we don’t know how to talk, but because we don’t know how to listen well. How do I listen well? The key to listening well is to discern the need of the other person in the present moment. One of the most profound verses regarding communication is found in Ephesians 4:29:

“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”

The first part of this verse goes without a whole lot of explanation. An unwholesome word is one that tears down, criticizes and bullies the other person. Just don’t do it!

Once we discern the need of the moment, then we will be able to choose the words that build up and supply the need. There can be various needs in the moment when it comes to communication that can go deep into the human emotion and psyche. But generally speaking, there are three needs that exist in every exchange of communication particularly regarding conflict. Here’s another hint: You will never discern a person’s deeper needs until these three are met.

Three needs that are present in every effort to communicate.

1. The need to be heard. Everyone wants and needs to be heard. When we listen with open ears so that we can clearly hear what is being said then we are on our way to listening well. We are not meeting others need to be heard when we interrupt, change the subject, or tune out.

2. The need to be understood. We’re not listening simply to hear the words that are being said. When we listen well, we listen for understanding. That means active listening. Active listening asks questions to clarify the meaning of what you think you just heard. One way to do that is to say, “what I hear you saying is…….Is that right?” We must demonstrate that we are really trying to understand how a person feels. Everyone wants and needs to be accurately understood.

3. The need to be validated. The easiest way to sabotage a conversation, discussion or disagreement is to NOT validate how a person feels. A person has the right to feel the way they feel. Whether or not those feelings are based on perception or misinterpretation is irrelevant at the moment. Feelings are real and should be validated as such. You can validate feelings by saying something like, “I can see you are angry and I want to help resolve that with you.” “I know you are disappointed and I’m sorry for my part in this.” Everyone wants and needs to be validated in how they feel.

When we learn to listen well, our focus is on meeting the other person’s needs in the moment. Those needs start with being heard, understood and validated. From there, your communication will be able to go deeper and get to the heart of the matter. Your relationships will be enhanced because your communication will become productive.

Keep REACHING FORWARD for God’s best in all of your relationships.

Comments welcome.